Tuesday, May 27, 2008

First 300 Mile Day!!!

YES! To some of you old-time motorcycle tour folks, that is probably not a large accomplishment. You hop on your GoldWing or Harley and just ride. For my Rebel and myself, it is a big deal. And, it was a good learning experience.
  1. Always bring a little more cash than you think you will need.
  2. Never assume there will be a median road that will allow you to turn around when riding a super-slab.
  3. Drink a LOT of water. It's better to pull over every hour than to get dehydrated.
  4. Just because a map says it is paved, doesn't mean it is good!
  5. Anticipate every possible problem before you set out.
  6. And lucky number six... Never, EVER ride in the sun for more than an hour or so, wearing jeans with holes in the knees. (I now have a nasty oval sunburn just above my left knee).
Here is a map of my outgoing route from Henderson, NV to St. George, UT. My return route was fairly direct; I-15 down to where I-93 splits off up north. There, I exited the highway and got on Las Vegas Boulevard. If you look at the map, you will need to zoom in quite a bit to see it.

In all, it was a good ride, and proof that I can effectively adjust the valves on my bike. Those of you who have read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance may understand; this was the first time I have ever attempted to do anything like this to an engine. I was slow and methodical, following the instructions, while all the time trying to understand the purpose for each action. Just following a list of directions teaches nothing.

Well, after having the valve pan off and on about three times, I knew something was amiss. First one side was nice and quiet but the other side clanked. I would do everything again and the sounds would switch sides! The thought of just taking it to the mechanic did cross my mind, but I remember that being a "gumption trap..." or something like that. Don't treat failure as a failure; treat it as a learning tool.

And I did.

I went back and looked at the instructions on-line and realized one of the steps had been omitted when I printed them! I follow the instructions, including the missed step, and she purrs like a kitten!

After the first failure, I thought "I did something wrong."
After the second failure, I thought "I did this wrong or I have the wrong instructions."
After the third failure, I thought "I followed the instructions, there must be something wrong with the instructions."

Now, what made me think that, rather than "I have the wrong tool" or "I am just incapable" or whatever? I think it was gumption. I am growing & it feels good.

Oh, by the way, after adjusting the valves, my little Rebel has better acceleration AND I can easily cruise at 75MPH. I even got it up to 85 on a flat stretch of road. Not bad!

Ride safe, all!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Solo Right and Solo Wrong

Yesterday I had the opportunity to peruse the tomes in my sanctuary. Well, they weren't exactly tomes. And the sanctuary I write of is really the local Barnes & Noble bookstore. Regardless of description, I spent an enjoyable hour or so looking through books.

Typically when I shop for much of anything I make a list or know what I want, go to the store, buy it, or an acceptable substitute, then return. A bookstore is different. I could browse in a bookstore until they throw me out!

First stop: US Travel. Here I looked through dry travelogues, opinionated travel idea books and a few interesting book about 'places to go.' One that caught my eye was a book about traveling in Illinois. As I thumbed through it, the dryness seemed to fall out of the pages. It seemed to be lists of itineraries with phone numbers, written by someone who searched the web for interesting things about a particular area and wrote a few things down.

The place listed in the book, nearest where I grew up was The Slammer (www.theslammer.net) in Aledo, Illinois. Nifty place. I still remember it as the county jail. But I wonder. Are lists of places what travel is all about? Going from point x to point y to point z? I hope readers of these books understand that the places listed therein are guidelines. Go ahead. Ride or drive off the beaten path.

I then looked for books about solo travel and was struck by two things. Firstly, Why do some of these read like a recipe book?

Buy ticket A in advance.
Let friends and family know where you are going.
Pack light and smart.
Don't trust the locals.
Stay in your hotel overnight.
call your mommie in the morning and night.

ACH!!! Traveling alone, whether it be by motorcycle, car, bus or plane is not primarily about the trip. It is about the journey of an individual soul. It's about the adventure.

Secondly, why are so many of these books about women solo traveling? I just searched Amazon with the keywords solo and travel. The first page results gives 8 out of 16 books that are specifically for women only. I find that interesting. If anyone can explain that, please let me know, ok?

Well, I'm off to tune up my bike...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Riding in the Rain

It was an epiphany of sorts. Most people tend to agree; the weather this year is a bit odd. Vegas' weather is no different.

Last week I remember riding home from work and seeing a thermometer along the way that read 110F. I was prepared; I was hydrated and wore my mesh. Perhaps a bit of my background is necessary here.

There is no hiding it. My boss knows. My co-workers know. My friends and family know. I HATE Las Vegas and dislike the desert. It has always seemed to be a combination of public attitude and culture (or lack thereof) in combination with the weather that provided the catalyst for these feelings.

But in that 110 degree sun, in my mesh, on my motorcycle, my road of life turned 90 degrees. 'This is actually fun,' I thought. This heat, this thing that I had disliked for years was now a challenge. A challenge that had not been felt for years to this intensity.

For more than thirty years of my life I reveled in the challenge of withstanding wind and rain and storms and tornadoes and snow and sleet and hail. It made my adrenalin flow, life being lived, not survived or tolerated. Now, on my motorcycle, the heat is a challenge that I gladly confront. I do not shy away from it as before, searching out an air conditioned enclosure or facade. The hot wind of motion blows through my mesh and it feels good.

Today, with the seeming oddity of recent weather, it was cold. 56 degrees when hopped on my bike to run a few errands. It felt good. The weather did not disappoint. The low hanging clouds did as most clouds do; rain. It felt good.

Being the first time I have ever ridden in the rain, all movements and changes of throttle and brake and lean were incredibly measured and monitored. The flood of stimulus fed a starving brain. Rain came down, hitting my visor, running off in streams. Rain drops, then little pellets of sleet happily stung my legs through saturated denim.

My motorcycle seemed to love it as much as I did. She ran smooth and gentle through puddles on saturated pavement. Tires efficiently gripping the road, she carefully and safely carried my soul.

On my motorcycle, perhaps Las Vegas and the desert isn't so bad.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday's Undirected Motorcycle Thoughts

I am tired. As a matter of fact, Tuesday I was so tired I drove my truck to work instead of riding. Yes, it is that time again. I am on-call for work. As such, Tuesday at about 2 AM I was woken to the happy "BZZZRRRR BZZZRRRR" of my cell phone announcing an urgent message from work.

That really didn't start the week off well for me.

BUT, on the bright side, I am employed and I enjoy the folks I work with, and have a long weekend. A little overcast, little cool; nice weekend for a ride.

So, I have several motorcycle plans for this weekend. Number one, is to lubricate the front forks. They have been getting rather sticky and not responding the way they should to smaller bumps. I don't want to change the fork oil quite yet.

Then there are the valves that need to be checked. About 800 miles ago my Rebel should have received her 4000 mile check-up. I have done everything else; oil change; chain lube; check front and rear wheel bearings; check fork bearing; check spark plugs; etc... There is a distinctive pinging on the right side of the engine that indicates to me that something is not right with the valves in there.

I really need to go head to toe and check for loose things. I found a loose nut on the triple-tree last week and decided that I would spend at least an hour this weekend checking her for loose parts.

Then, in preparation for my big ride later this year, I am planning a 300M ride one day. Yes, 300 miles on a Honda Rebel. Don' worry. Pictures will be posted!

Ride safe, all!

Monday, May 19, 2008

By Land and Sea

The solo round-the-world travels of Beau Gunderson. He is riding his BMW F 650 GS around the world for some great causes: The Alzheimer's Association; the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation and RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). I discovered his blog last weekend & have enjoyed reading it. Take a look here and enjoy! www.bylandandsea.org Oh, and don't forget to support his causes!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lamenting the Standard (Part 2)

In retrospect, I think the title of these two posts should have been something like 'Reviewing the Standard Motorcycles'. Truthfully, this is more a review than lamentation. But, I ramble on; here is part 2.

Now, Suzuki offers quite a few bikes they describe as standard: B-King; Bandit; SV650 (picture on the left); and the GZ250. All but the GZ has a serious leaning towards the sports bike look but their more upright seating and higher handlebars make them more of a 'standard' than a typical sports bike. And, strangely enough, the little GZ250 looks a LOT like the Honda Rebel.

Suzuki GZ250

Harley Davidson, the last of the “Big Five” offers some great cruisers, but the only bike they offer that is close to a standard is the Buell Blast. It seems to be more dual-sport than standard.

Triumph offers some great standards: the Scrambler; and Bonneville. These bikes are classics that will get you around just about anywhere there’s a road. And if there isn’t, the Scrambler will get you there anyway.Triumph Scrambler

Triumph Bonneville

The closest thing to a standard offered by BMW is what they call urban. Their styling really doesn’t fall into the category of standard, but their function does. Their urban models include the R1200R, K1200R, G650 Xmoto, and the G650 Xcountry.

BMW XCountry

So, there aren't many standard motorcycles out there for us who enjoy them. But luckily, the ones that are still in production are high quality machines and there seem to be a good supply on the used market. Standard motorcycle lovers who don't mind getting their hands dirty have no need to lament! There are 'project bikes' out there by the ton.

OK, enough chit-chat. I'm going for a ride.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Chain of Causation

"Fate is the endless chain of causation, whereby things are; the reason or formula by which the world goes by." - Zeno of Citium (Pic of statue on left)

I find it curious that philosophers in ancient Greece were discussing the "chain of causality" and yet even today, thousands of years later, people still don't get it.

I remember my Beginning Rider Course teachers discussing this. Break one link in the chain and it is broken. Not a real difficult concept.

Yesterday I rode to the smoke shop for a pack of cigarettes. I arrived back at my bike and fumbled the pack, dropping it next to my rear tire. I bend over to pick it up and loose my balance. Left hand goes down by reflex to steady myself. Unfortunately, the first thing it touched was the hot muffler. I now have two fingers pretty badly burnt on the back. There was a "chain of causality" here, but one I accept, and one I learn from. There is no one to blame.

There are some people who don't seem to accept this causality thing. They do stupid things like drive drunk, take drugs, misuse prescription medicines. When things start to go to hell, they are not introspective; they seek to lay blame. When a corporeal body will not, or cannot accept blame, then it is God's fault.

Did God give you your car keys after you drank a six-pack and say, "Have a nice drive?" Did God give you that cocaine and say, "Man, that's some good shit!" Did God tell you to chew your Oxycontins or take too many anti-depressants?

No. YOU started that car. YOU snorted that coke. YOU took that hand full of pills. Those who choose to ignore cause and effect have only themselves to blame.

>>>Tomorrow - Part 2 of Lamenting the Standard.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lamenting the Standard (Part 1)

It seems these days that bike riders generally want or like a specific class of motorcycle. There are those who like to ride hard and fast on sports bike. Some like the tall, ample clearance of a dirt bike. Many others like the sexy look and sound of a V-Twin cruiser. Some enjoy eating up the asphalt on touring bikes. There are others, like the trail bike, café racer, trials bike and pit bike. Then there is the hybrid dual-sport bike that will likely receive the official moniker of adventure bike before too long.

Aside from the adventure class of bike, each of these classes of bikes is very good at what they were intended for. But what of the standard? These are general motorcycles that aren’t great at one thing, but pretty good, or at least acceptable at several things. They are fairly comfortable on the road, handle well on gravel and depending on the bike, acceptable on trails.

Honda’s 919 is a nice blend of standard and sports bike; personally one I would like to have. Unfortunately 2007 was the last model year for us in the USA. Bikes similar to this, called the Hornet, are rather popular in Europe. Apparently there isn’t enough of a market here in the states for Honda to continue marketing them.

So, what new standard bikes are out there for us in the US market? Honda has only two offerings; the Rebel and the Nighthawk. While the Rebel is more cruiser than standard, it still does well in that category. Both bikes share the same drivetrain but suffer from having only a 250CC class engine. In all, gas mileage is super at over 80 MPG but the engine’s size can really challenge the rider when on the highway.

Honda Nighthawk 250

Alas, the Rebel used to be offered with a 450CC engine, and there used to be a 750CC Nighthawk. They can only be bought second hand now, but luckily the bikes are not complex and many repairs can be handled by the owner.

Honda Nighthawk 750

Yamaha offers the V Star 250, but with it’s V-Twin engine and styling, it is more of a baby cruiser. Unfortunately, that is the closest thing to a standard Yamaha makes.

Kawasaki offers the Eliminator 125. It is billed as a cruiser but the simple styling and simplicity makes it look a LOT like a standard. Unfortunately it’s 125CC engine limits it’s utility.

Kawasaki Eliminator 125

Coming up in part two, Suzuki, BMW and Triumph. Am I missing any currently produced standards? If so, let me know!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Motorcycle Awareness Month

May is Motorcycle Awareness Month; Take a look at this site by ABATE of California for more information. Not enough info? Try here at the Auto Channel website, or just google it. There are a ton of sites with information.

There are are now more motorcyclists on the road than ever. What can car drivers and motorcycle riders do to make the roads safer? Here are a few ideas...

>>>For the motorcycle rider>>>
  • Wear a reflective vest, especially at night.
  • Wear a helmet with reflective tape or stickers.
  • Wear as much protective gear as you are comfortable with. Decent leather or armored mesh is important to protect your body's soft parts.
  • Do NOT wear camouflage clothing. You want to be seen, not blend in.
  • Do NOT wear shorts. A simple dumped bike or slow speed lowside can seriously rip up unprotected skin.
  • Perform regular maintenance on your bike. Your life depends on it proper operation.
  • Ride within your limits.
  • Take at least one day a month and practice your slow speed maneuvers and emergency stops.
  • Read at least one book per year on rider safety or riding techniques.
  • Take a safety class. They are typically less than $150 and after you pass, you may well be a better rider and qualify for a lower insurance premium. (Check with your insurance company.)
  • NEVER, EVER drink and ride.
>>>For the Car Driver>>>
  • Always look for motorcycles. Remember, we are a lot smaller than you.
  • Understand that we pay road taxes and vehicle registration the same as you.
  • Be very careful when turning left across an oncoming traffic lane. Many, many fatal accidents happen when a car driver fails to see a motorcycle coming in the opposite direction.
  • Give a motorcycle extra space. Don't stop right behind their rear wheel. It makes riders nervous. Give them six feet at a stop, or more.
  • Always use your turning signals and follow the driving rules and laws of your state.
  • If you have something in the bed of your truck or strapped to your car, make sure it is secure. Even an empty plastic soda bottle out the window can cause a motorcycle to loose its grip on the road and throw its rider to its death.
  • Remember, cars are big, heavy and hard. Motorcycles are small, light and their riders soft.
  • Keep in mind that a 15 MPH accident between two cars usually involves calling the police and insurance companies. That same accident between a car and a motorcycle will involve an ambulance, and likely the coroner.
  • Use your lights anytime you are on the road.
  • NEVER, EVER drink and drive.
Riders & cagers alike, be safe out there.
(image above is courtesy of the Texas DMV)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Riding Solo

What is it that attracts one to riding solo? Is it the independence? The challenge of relying on ones self? Perhaps it is the solitary peace of mind it provides. What about the personal power of being in complete control of ones' self?

Or, just maybe it is something that cannot be expressed in words. A language of jumbled objectivity and subjectivity and philosophy and spiritualism. Something shared but individual.

Maybe it the opportunity to be isolated in an increasingly intrusive society. The leather or armor or helmet or speed protects the rider from the world, or maybe its the opposite.

Or maybe, just maybe, those that enjoy solo riding are simply solo individuals. More comfortable by themselves, the lonesome road beckons. Only necessary human contact need be waves between other motorcyclists.

Regardless of the reason, that is where I picture myself. A single motorcyclist, comfortable in the solitude, riding singularly down an old, lonesome stretch of Midwestern asphalt.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

My Butt on A Few New Bikes

Coming home from work today, I decided to make a few stops. Stop number one was my regular bike dealer, Ride Now Motor Sports. To tell you the truth, I don't care much for their service but they are one of the only Honda dealers in the valley.

After a few smokes, I sat on an older, used CBR750 and a new 919 (pictured on the left). They both felt OK, but the 919 was a bit too tall. Supposedly, the suspension can be adjusted to lower it a bit. The look is just nice. Not too sporty or over complex. Plenty of class. Both leather or mesh would look good on this ride.

After making that stop, I ride over to the henderson Harley Davidson dealer. Most of their motorcycles are just too large. The only two bikes they make that fit me are the Buell Blast and Sportster 883. The Blast looks and feels nice, but is just too darned tall and can't be lowered much. Now the Sportster 883...
This is a nice, small, inexpensive bike. It weighs in at about 500 pounds and is very well balanced.

There is an entire line of accessories for both and they are rather inexpensive, around $8,000. At that price, either one could be an addition or replacement to my little Honda Rebel.

But, do I really want to replace my Rebel? I LIKE my little 80 MPG Rebel. It is a great commuter bike. Who knows... It will be a while... No choices tonight.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Let the Insanity Begin!

Day one, for my trip to the east coast is planned! Ok, I know when some take off on a motorcycle trip, they just pack and head out with little more that a rough idea of where they are going. I am not completely like that. I need a more solid plan than that.

So, let's try these embedded google maps again:

View Larger Map

If this looks funny, you can also follow this google maps link. The goal of my first few days is to get out of the desert heat. That said, I will be heading North, up to Idaho, then east across Wyoming. Day one will start from the house here in Henderson and end in Ely, NV where I will probably stay in a nice cool hotel room. Stops will include Overton, Moapa, Alamo, Hiko, Sunny Side, Rues Place and Lund. As is typical in the desert, services will be sparse in places, so I will be relying on a Jerry Can with gas and plenty of water.

AND! I have my first donation in support of my trip! My immediate boss, Randy Holland donated a small, two person tent to my insane cause. Who knows... Maybe I will have the chance to share the tent with someone on the trip??? (LOL)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Ride Like a Kid!

That's what my MSF BRC instructor told us. He explained further..."When little boys and girls hop on a bike, they don't think of every little thing. They just ride and have fun."

The more I think about it, the safer they are as well. They don't dwell on brake pressure or perfect shifting. They just ride; have fun; enjoy the exhilaration of riding. Older riders, like myself, tend to concentrate on the individual items. It can be a constant battle. We are taught in life that in order to solve a problem, it must be broken down into pieces and examined. The pieces are then fixed, thus the larger problem is rectified.

Kids don't see that. They hop on and ride. Wouldn't motorcycle riding and life in general be more pleasant and enjoyable if we would learn a thing or two from these young 'uns?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

In my literary world, the definition of a good book is, at its surface, one that prompts thoughts to flow and synapses to fire. It is a catalyst of thought and insight. This book not only does that, it catalyzes awareness and the notice of relationships never before seen.

This is a definition I use to classify any written item, whether it be a book or newspaper article or website or blog or even an e-mail. If the catalyst is there, it is good. Whether there is agreement with the author or not, the catalysts' the thing.

This book, (ZMM for short), interoperates on so many levels. It is a travelogue, a philosophical work, a story of a man with a tumultuous past hidden through medical means by legal decree. A man who struggles at being a father, admitting that he wishes to be something more; something better for his son.

A troubled, gifted, fallible man.

Starting as a motorcycle travelogue, it was admittedly a little slow but interesting, none the less. Hints of obscured things are made but not yet explored. Then, toward the end of Part 1, the veil of obscurity is removed. No. That is too mild a word. The veil was ripped from its fixture. That is where things become quite interesting.

Another property of a good book, is its almost painful requirement for solitary attention. It draws me back and back, and when there are other things on my mind, the book can simply not be read. It is not understandable; simply a collection of words and letters and thoughts and concepts that just barely touch my consciousness. Any other things that are busying my mind simply block this singular input.

Many fiction books do not do this, yet I think they are good. They are entertaining while catalyzing thought, yet other thoughts not related to the book can commingle. This requirement for solitary attention is special. Any books that do this will always have a place on my bookshelf, even if they may not spend so much time there.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “It's so hard when contemplated in advance, and so easy when you do it.”

Thank you, Robert M. Pirsig for this fantastic work. I may have paid $14 for my copy of ZMM, but I shall be indebted to you for my remaining days.

This is the from the Author's Notes at the beginning of the book: “... However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles either.”

If you know anything about Zen and you read this book, you may well see how true, but yet false this is. If you don't get it, don't worry, it's a Zen Motorcycle thing.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


This just about sums up my week. I am a professional computer programmer by trade and training, although I use that term professional a bit loosely here. I have been pushing bits and bytes now for nearly 25 years. There used to be an exhilaration to it, and there still is from time to time. Now, though, there seems to be more road blocks; complexities.

I want to do something simple. Connect two or more computers to each other on the internet and let them exchange real-time audio data. Simple you say? Well, that's what I said... initially.

My only requirements were simple; the language had to be something called C# and it must use a communications session control protocol called SIP. OK. Can't be that bad.

After three days of searching and experimenting and trying and writing and compiling and swearing and smoking and reading, I have made very little headway. It would seem this path is full of complications and issues.

Then, my personal life. No good deed goes unpunished. My ex-wife is in my truck and says "The seat belt is all twisted," as she tries putting it on. I reach over, pull it and buckle. It's good now. No. "You never believe me when I say something is wrong!" Damn. I just thought I helped her, nothing more. I won't bore you with the rest. It's complicated...

So, yes. I have a Honda Rebel. It is simple compared to other bikes. Single carburetor. Simple ignition and timing, with no computers involved. There is no fuel pump or fancy, sparkly things to have problems. Compared with technology 100 years ago, this bike nears the definition of witchcraft. Compared with my complicated life this week, and, well, the world today, my little motorcycle is simple.

So, you know what? I'm going for a ride.